Superphysics Superphysics
Part 189

The Stratonists

by Leibniz
9 minutes  • 1778 words
  1. Bayle had apprehensions on the Stratonists, in case one should admit truths that are not dependent upon the will of God.

He seems to fear lest they may take advantage against us of the perfect regularity of the eternal verities. Since this regularity springs only from the nature and necessity of things, without being directed by any cognition, M. Bayle fears that one might with Strato thence infer that the world also could have become regular through a blind necessity. But it is easy to answer that. In the region of the eternal verities are found all the possibles, and consequently the regular as well as the irregular: there must be a reason accounting for the preference for order and regularity, and this reason can only be found in understanding. Moreover these very truths can have no existence without an understanding to take cognizance of them; for they would not exist if there were no divine understanding wherein they are realized, so to speak. Hence Strato does not attain his end, which is to exclude cognition from that which enters into the origin of things.

  1. The difficulty that M. Bayle has imagined in connexion with Strato seems a little too subtle and far-fetched. That is termed: timere, ubi non est timor. He makes another difficulty, which has just as slight a foundation, namely, that God would be subjected to a kind of fatum. Here are his words (p. 555): ‘If they are propositions of eternal truth, which are such by their nature and not by God’s institution, if they are not true by a free decree of his will, but if on the contrary he has recognized them as true of necessity, because such was their nature, there is a kind of fatum to which he is subjected; there is an absolutely insurmountable natural necessity. Thence comes also the result that the divine understanding in the infinity of its ideas has always and at the outset hit upon their perfect conformity with their objects, without the guidance of any cognition; for it would be a contradiction to say that any exemplary cause had served as a plan for the acts of God’s understanding. One would never that way find eternal ideas or any first intelligence. One must say, then, that a nature which exists of necessity always finds its way, without any need for it to be shown. How then shall we overcome the obstinacy of a Stratonist?’

  2. But again it is easy to answer. This so-called fatum, which [247]binds even the Divinity, is nothing but God’s own nature, his own understanding, which furnishes the rules for his wisdom and his goodness; it is a happy necessity, without which he would be neither good nor wise. Is it to be desired that God should not be bound to be perfect and happy? Is our condition, which renders us liable to fail, worth envying? And should we not be well pleased to exchange it for sinlessness, if that depended upon us? One must be indeed weary of life to desire the freedom to destroy oneself and to pity the Divinity for not having that freedom. M. Bayle himself reasons thus elsewhere against those who laud to the skies an extravagant freedom which they assume in the will, when they would make the will independent of reason.

  3. Moreover, M. Bayle wonders ’that the divine understanding in the infinity of its ideas always and at the outset hits upon their perfect conformity with their objects, without the guidance of any cognition’. This objection is null and void. Every distinct idea is, through its distinctness, in conformity with its object, and in God there are distinct ideas only. At first, moreover, the object exists nowhere; but when it comes into existence, it will be formed according to this idea. Besides, M. Bayle knows very well that the divine understanding has no need of time for seeing the connexion of things. All trains of reasoning are in God in a transcendent form, and they preserve an order amongst them in his understanding, as well as in ours: but with him it is only an order and a priority of nature, whereas with us there is a priority of time. It is therefore not to be wondered at that he who penetrates all things at one stroke should always strike true at the outset; and it must not be said that he succeeds without the guidance of any cognition. On the contrary, it is because his knowledge is perfect that his voluntary actions are also perfect.

  4. Up to now I have shown that the Will of God is not independent of the rules of Wisdom, although indeed it is a matter for surprise that one should have been constrained to argue about it, and to do battle for a truth so great and so well established. But it is hardly less surprising that there should be people who believe that God only half observes these rules, and does not choose the best, although his wisdom causes him to recognize it; and, in a word, that there should be writers who hold that God could have done better. That is more or less the error of the famous Alfonso, King of Castile, who was elected King of the Romans by certain [248]Electors, and originated the astronomical tables that bear his name. This prince is reported to have said that if God in making the world had consulted him he would have given God good advice. Apparently the Ptolemaic system, which prevailed at that time, was displeasing to him. He believed therefore that something better planned could have been made, and he was right. But if he had known the system of Copernicus, with the discoveries of Kepler, now extended by knowledge of the gravity of the planets, he would indeed have confessed that the contrivance of the true system is marvellous. We see, therefore, that here the question concerned the more or less only; Alfonso maintained that better could have been done, and his opinion was censured by everyone.

  5. Yet philosophers and theologians dare to support dogmatically such a belief; and I have many times wondered that gifted and pious persons should have been capable of setting bounds to the goodness and the perfection of God. For to assert that he knows what is best, that he can do it and that he does it not, is to avow that it rested with his will only to make the world better than it is; but that is what one calls lacking goodness. It is acting against that axiom already quoted: Minus bonum habet rationem mali. If some adduce experience to prove that God could have done better, they set themselves up as ridiculous critics of his works. To such will be given the answer given to all those who criticize God’s course of action, and who from this same assumption, that is, the alleged defects of the world, would infer that there is an evil God, or at least a God neutral between good and evil. And if we hold the same opinion as King Alfonso, we shall, I say, receive this answer: You have known the world only since the day before yesterday, you see scarce farther than your nose, and you carp at the world. Wait until you know more of the world and consider therein especially the parts which present a complete whole (as do organic bodies); and you will find there a contrivance and a beauty transcending all imagination. Let us thence draw conclusions as to the wisdom and the goodness of the author of things, even in things that we know not. We find in the universe some things which are not pleasing to us; but let us be aware that it is not made for us alone. It is nevertheless made for us if we are wise: it will serve us if we use it for our service; we shall be happy in it if we wish to be.


  1. Someone will say that it is impossible to produce the best, because there is no perfect creature, and that it is always possible to produce one which would be more perfect. I answer that what can be said of a creature or of a particular substance, which can always be surpassed by another, is not to be applied to the universe, which, since it must extend through all future eternity, is an infinity. Moreover, there is an infinite number of creatures in the smallest particle of matter, because of the actual division of the continuum to infinity. And infinity, that is to say, the accumulation of an infinite number of substances, is, properly speaking, not a whole any more than the infinite number itself, whereof one cannot say whether it is even or uneven. That is just what serves to confute those who make of the world a God, or who think of God as the Soul of the world; for the world or the universe cannot be regarded as an animal or as a substance.

  2. It is therefore not a question of a creature, but of the universe; and the adversary will be obliged to maintain that one possible universe may be better than the other, to infinity; but there he would be mistaken, and it is that which he cannot prove. If this opinion were true, it would follow that God had not produced any universe at all: for he is incapable of acting without reason, and that would be even acting against reason. It is as if one were to suppose that God had decreed to make a material sphere, with no reason for making it of any particular size. This decree would be useless, it would carry with it that which would prevent its effect. It would be quite another matter if God decreed to draw from a given point one straight line to another given straight line, without any determination of the angle, either in the decree or in its circumstances. For in this case the determination would spring from the nature of the thing, the line would be perpendicular, and the angle would be right, since that is all that is determined and distinguishable. It is thus one must think of the creation of the best of all possible universes, all the more since God not only decrees to create a universe, but decrees also to create the best of all. For God decrees nothing without knowledge, and he makes no separate decrees, which would be nothing but antecedent acts of will: and these we have sufficiently explained, distinguishing them from genuine decrees.

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